During the afternoon, the development team (whom I had interviwed earlier) did a lengthy report on the December version update, as well as upcoming version updates. They also answered a small selection of questions submitted by attendees earlier that day. Many of their questions were similar to the ones posed in our roundtable interview: "can we have more inventory space?", "where's the new Avatar you promised us?", and others. One poignant question asked during this time was why Square Enix hadn't made good on their promise to turn Red Mage into a more "front line" job, as they had said at last year's Fan Fest. They replied that they are still working on it, but that they plan on bringing significant changes to not just Red Mage, but White Mage as well. Melee mages? I can only hope!
But the Q&A time was only a small part of the presentation. Most of the time was spent presenting information on the December update: Dancer and Scholar Relic Armor (AF2), category 2 merits; increased Salvage drop rate; treasure caskets; Fields of Valor; and Wings of the Goddess story content. Other, smaller changes were announced as well. There is now a set of male formal "wedding" clothing to match the female's bridal clothing for characters who get married in-game. New adjustments would be made to the game's mechanics (such as the Reraise effect no longer being dispel-able by enemies). This presentation brought a lot of smiles, and a bit of laughter, to the audience that day.
My impressions? First of all, the Dancer Relic Armor looks beautiful. They didn't present the stats on the gear, but the design is gorgeous. Scholar Relic Armor, on the other hand, did not seem to "wow" the audience. Nor did it impress me too much. It's essentially a color-swap on the AF1, but a little more bland.
The Category 2 merits for DNC and SCH were all interesting in concept, but even during the presentation, I heard attendees discussing whether or not they'd be useful at all. For example, many of the Scholar merit abilities cost 2 of their "charges" (maximum of 4 held at any given time) to use. The Dancer's cat. 2 merit abilities also had interesting concepts, but they were all "trade-off" abilities: gain this trait, but lose something else in turn. You could literally hear the crowd go from joy to sorrow as each ability was presented. It was like this: "with this ability, you can use finishing moves without building steps." YEA!!! "But you can't use any Waltzes while this is in effect." Awwwww...
The "Fields of Valor" is a mini-event that you can perform in many areas, with significant gil and experience points provided as rewards. You can do these solo, or with a party. The Fields of Valor quests will be simple things such as "kill a certain number of a particular type of enemy," or "defeat this enemy within a certain time limit." The purpose of the Fields of Valor, as a gameplay mechanic, is to provide another form of gaining experience instead of the usual level-grinding, or waiting for the next Besieged/Campaign to start. With these events, you control when the event starts and ends.
Gamers familiar with FFXI know that there are "Treasure Chests" and "Treasure Coffers" scattered throughout the dungeons of Vana'diel. Now, a third type of treasure box will be added. The "Treasure Casket" is a box that will appear randomly (10% chance of drop) in any of the original 11 areas of Vana'diel (mostly low-level, outdoor zones). The casket comes in two types: on type will supply temporary items that facilitate battle (similar to the potions given out during Besieged). The other chest will drop actual inventory items; however, this latter chest requires you to unlock a special two-digit code. Using a guess-and-check hot-or-cold mechanism, you have a few chances to correctly guess the answer to the code. After too many incorrect attempts, the chest will disappear. A correct answer will open the chest. Sometimes, the chest will contain rare/ex gear that is new to the game. Thieves will be given better "hot-or-cold" hints than other jobs when trying to open the chest.
The beauty of an MMORPG is that it is always changing, and can always improve. Here we saw a presentation for just one version update: there have been well over twenty of them since the game's release. Seeing this amount of detail go into making sure the game is balanced, fun, and always providing new challenges gives me a sense of hope that this MMORPG can continue to thrive.